Blonde On Blonde

Band members                             Related acts

  line up 1 (1967-70)

- Ralph Denyer -- vocals, guitar
- Leslie (Les) Hicks -- drums, percussion
- Richard Hopkins (aka Richard John) -- bass, keyboards
- Gareth Johnson -- lead guitar, sitar, lute, electronic effects 

  line up 2 (1970-71)

- Leslie (Les) Hicks -- drums, percussion

- Richard Hopkins (aka Richard John) -- bass, keyboards

- Gareth Johnson -- lead guitar, sitar, lute, electronic effects 
NEW - David Thomas -- vocals, guitar, bass (replaced Ralph Denyer) 


  line up 3 (1972-72)

NEW - Graham Davies -- vocals, guitar, bass, banjo (replaced 

  Richard Hopkins) 
- Leslie (Les) Hicks -- drums, percussion
- Gareth Johnson -- lead guitar, sitar, lute, electronic effects  
- David Thomas -- vocals, guitar, bass




Aquila (Ralph Denyer) 

- Crystal Suspension (Les Hicks)

- The Diplomatics (Dave Thomas)

- The Rooster Brothers (Graham Davies)

- The Dave Thomas Band




Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Contrasts

Company: Janus

Catalog: JLS-3003

Year: 1969

Country/State: Newport, South Wales

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: US pressing; gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 4350

Price: $80.00

Cost: $1.00


In spite of the unoriginal name (they apparently borrowed it from Dylan's 1965 album), this short-lived and little known Welsh outfit stands as one of my favorite 'unknown' bands.  Even though they enjoyed strong reviews from music critics and achieved massive exposure playing before gigantic crowds at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival (coincidently headlined by Dylan), they never managed to generate much in the way of UK sales and did even less in the States. Best of all - their three albums sported a tremendously talented guitarist in Gareth Johnson.

Drummer Les Hicks, bassist/keyboard player Richard Hopkins and guitarist Gareth Johnson started their collaboration in 1967 as members of the Newport, South Wales-based blues-rock outfit The Cellar Set.  Deciding they needed a singer they put an ad in Melody Maker, hiring Ralph Denyer Band front man Denyer for the job.  They also brought in Simon Lawrence on second guitarist, though his tenure was brief.  As Blonde On Blonde convinced they could make it in the big leagues, in 1968 the quartet packed up their gear leaving Wales for London.  Playing clubs such as London's Middle Earth generated a groundswell of publicity, as did an opening slot on The Jefferson Airplane's first UK tour.  Pye Records subsequently signing the band (Janus Records acquiring US distribution rights). 

The band debuted with the UK single 'All Day All Night' b/w 'Country Life' (Pye catalog number 7N 17637).  While it did little commercially, Pye stuck with the band funding an album.  Released in 1969, I've seen the quartet's Barry Murray produced debut "Contrasts" described as progressive. To some degree that's a major misnomer and disservice to the band. While there are some true progressive leanings, the majority of the set's simply too diverse to be dumped under such a broad and meaningless genre. These guys rather effortlessly manage to cover a wide range of genres, including hard rock (the leadoff jam "Ride with Captain Max"), folk ("Island On an Island"), psych (Johnson's "Spinning Wheel" sports a great sitar solo), and conventional pop ("Jeanette Isabella" and "Goodbye" - the latter featuring a beautiful harpsichord-propelled melody which would have made for a wonderful radio hit). Elsewhere, the album included a pair of the Robin Williamson covers "No Sleep Blues" and a blazing, feedback propelled "I Need My Friend". (Williamson's International String Band could only wish they'd turned in an effort with as much energy). Personal favorite was Denyer's hysterical "Conversationally Making the Grade". Among the few blatant missteps was a needless horn enhanced cover of The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby".   

"Contrasts" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Ride with Captain Max   (Ralph Denyer - Les Hicks - Richard Hopkins - Gareth Johnson) - 5:21
2.) Spinning Wheel   (Gareth Johnson) - 2:45
3.) No Sleep Blues   (Robin Williamson) - 3:22
4.) Goodbye - 2:13
5.) I Need My Friend   (Robin Williamson) - 3:14
6.) Mother Earth   (Gareth Johnson) - 5:01

(side 2)

1.) Eleanor Rigby   (John Lennon - Paul McCartney) - 3:17
2.) Conversationally Making the Grade   (Ralph Denyer) - 4:13
3.) Regency - 1:59
4.) Island On an Island   (Gareth Johnson) - 3:00
5.) Don't Be Too Long - 2:36
6.) Jeanette Isabella - 3:49

Yeah, here's another one listed in Hans Pokora's 3001 Record Collector's Dreams.  (The album was originally released with a gatefold sleeve. I still get the creeps when looking at the spider perched on the woman's butt cheek ...) certainly was a nice looking butt cheek though.) 



                 US Janus pressing





The album was also released in Japan by the Pye label (catalog number PYE #YS-2248-Y) with an alternative cover:










Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Rebirth

Company: Trans-World/Ember

Catalog: NR 5049

Year: 1970

Country/State: Newport, South Wales

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; Canadian press

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5351

Price: $120.00

Cost: $1.00


1970's "Rebirth" was released in the wake of a heavy touring schedule including an August 1969 performance in front of 150,000 close friends at the Isle of Wight Festival (by coincidence Bob Dylan was the headliner)   The album also marked the introduction of ex-Skid Row singer/guitarist and longtime friend David Thomas who replaced singer/guitarist Ralph Denyer. (Denyer subsequently reappeared as the founding member of short lived progressive outfit Aquila.)   In the role of lead vocalist (he also picked up a large slice of the writing chores), Thomas was considerably more versatile than Denyer had been. The extra firepower provided by Thomas' cool and versatile chops was apparent in the form of a tougher, more comfortable rock oriented sound on tracks like 'Broken Hours' and the should've-been-a-radio-hit 'Heart without a Home'.  That said, like the debut the sophomore set was fairly varied, including stabs at Moody Blues-styled ballads ('Castles In the Sky'), progressive romps ('You'll Never Know Me/Release') and fuzz-propelled rockers ('November'). As before Gareth Johnson's versatile guitar provided many of the highlights - check out his scorching solos on 'Circle' and 'Colour Question'.  Not that it mattered one way or the other, but for some strange reason bassist Richard Hopkins was credited as 'Richard John'.  


Nothing more than a personal preference, this one strikes me as being the best of their three LPs.  Unlike the debut, their sophomore release never saw an American release, though the Trans-World label picked it up for Canadian release.     



"Rebirth" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Castles In the Sky   (Eve King - Paul Smith) - 
2.) Broken Hours   (David Thomas) - 
3.) Heart without a Home   (Gareth Johnson) - 
4.) Time Is Passing   (Les Hicks - David Thomas) - 
5.) Circle   (Gareth Johnson) - 

(side 1)

1.) November   (David Thomas) - 
2.) Colour Question   (Gareth Johnson) - 
3.) You'll Never Know Me/Release (Part 1)   (Gareth Johnson) - 
4.) You'll Never Know Me/Release (Part 1) (instrumental)   (Richard John) -


Ember also elected to release a single (with picture sleeve) off the LP (their second and final 45) - 'Castles In the Sky' b/w 'Circles' (Ember catalog EMBS 279).





Genre: progressive

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Reflections On a Life

Company: Ember

Catalog: NR 5058

Year: 1971

Country/State: Newport, South Wales

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5068

Price: $150.00

Cost: $1.00


1971's "Reflections On a Life" was recorded in the wake of another personnel shakeup that saw original guitarist Richard/John Hopkins replaced by singer/multi-instrumentalist Graham Davies. With drummer Les Hicks and guitarist Gareth Johnson sharing production responsibilities, the result was the band's most conventional, commercial and to some extent pedestrian release.  With a couple of exceptions (notably the rather disconcerting 'Happy Families' and the 'Revolution Number 9'-styled sound collage 'No.2 Psychological Decontamination Unit'), the band's earlier progressive moves were largely absent from their third set.  That said, the collection certainly started out with a bang.  Complete with crying babies, backward tapes, bizarre sound effects and ominous vocal treatments, the Gareth Johnson penned 'Gene Machine' was easily the wildest thing the band ever recorded.  From there on it was far less experimental and less interesting (though side two's 'The Rut' continued the psych mood).  With Johnson, Dave Thomas and Graham Davies splitting songwriting chores tracks like 'Love Song' and 'Bar Room Blues' found the band exploring a modest country/folk-rock orientation, while 'I Don't Care' and 'The Bargain' pursued a surprisingly conventional AOR sound.  The performances were never less than sterling and the band excelled at injecting interesting touches throughout the collection (check out the Eastern influences that cropped up at the end of 'Ain't It Sad Too'), making the entire album worth hearing.  In case anyone cared, propelled by a killer lead guitar 'Sad Song for An Easy Lady' and the pretty ballads 'The Bargain' (which I could swear I've heard elsewhere) and 'Chorale (Forever)' made for the album's standout performances.   

image from Dave Thomas' website


"Reflections On a Life" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Gene Machine   (Gareth Johnson) - 2:14  rating: ** stars

The band at their most experimental; complete with backward tapes, sound effects (crying babies) which abruptly switched into a strange segment of acoustic folk with an off=putting, treated, echo-enhanced vocal.  Note I said experimental; not necessarily enjoyable.  

2.) I Don't Care   (Gareth Johnson - Dave Thomas) - 2:38   rating: *** stars

Straight ahead, commercial FM boogie rocker ...  Think along the lines of early Foghat (in fact, the guitar refrain sounded like something Lonesome Dave Peverett and company might have unconsciously "borrowed" from the band).  Quite professional and largely anonymous for it, though it improved after you'd had a couple of cold beers.

4.) Bar Room Blues   (Dave Thomas) - 5:43   rating: ** stars

The opening chords led you to believe this was going to be an acoustic folky tune and when the rest of the band kicked in the tune took off in a country-tinged direction, complete with some needless banjo and harmonica touches.   The guitar work was nice enough, but overall it wasn't something I particularly enjoyed.  

5.) Sad Song for An Easy Lady   (Dave Thomas) - 4:15  rating: *** stars

'Sad Song for An Easy Lady' started out with a pretty acoustic segment before shifting gears into one of the album's isolated blues-rock tunes.   Nice wah wah lead guitar, harmonica, and bass backing with Thomas turning in one of his best vocals.  The tune was tapped as a UL single:

- 1972's 'Sad Song for An Easy Lady' b/w 'Happy Families' (Ember catalog number EMBS 316)

6.) Ain't It Sad Too   (Graham Davies) -  4:23   rating: *** stars

Initially I though 'Aiin't It Sad' was kind of a bland country-blues tune.  The song's standout performance came in the form of Graham Davies dobro work, but with a couple of spins, this one really grew on me. 

(side 2)

1.) The Bargain   (Dave Thomas) - 4:18   rating: *** stars

Another pretty acoustic ballad, 'The Bargain' demonstrated what a nice voice Thomas had, but like much of the album, there simply wasn't much of a hook to grab on to.  

2.) The Rut   (Dave Thomas) - 5:21   rating: **** stars

Having been married for over twenty years, lyrically 'The Rut' remains one of the most disturbing and depressing "relationship" tunes I've ever heard.  Thomas' tale of a dead relationship was amazingly cold, depressing, and quite colorful - still, you couldn't help but feel a bit of compassion for his aging partner ...  Around the 4:20 mark lead guitarist Johnson was finally let off the leash, turning in one of the album's best solos.  Amazing tune. 

3.) Happy Families   (Gareth Johnson) - 3:46  rating: **** stars

Screaming guitars are a normally a good way to start out a tune and that's certainly case on this out-and-out rocker, though the lyrics were certainly a bit on the disturbing side.  Would make a nice companion piece to The Police's 'Mother'.   

4.) No.2 Psychological Decontamination Unit (instrumental)   (Gareth Johnson) - 3:16  rating: ** stars

Admittedly the song title was a bit off putting, but then 'No.2 Psychological Decontamination Unit'  was recorded in 1971 ...  It was basically a three minute sound collage that sounded like a warmed over Pink Floyd outtake and which was likely to give most listeners a mild headache.

5.) Chorale (Forever)   (Gareth Johnson) -   rating: *** stars



Pretty acoustic ballad with some nice orchestration ...  A little lacking in the lyric department "I love you, if you love me, together, together, wait and see" repeated over and over and over ...   The track was released as an Italian single:


- 1972's 'Chorale (Forever)' b/w 'I DOn;t Care' (Cobra catalog number JB 002 042)






And that was pretty much the end of it ...   Ember dropped the band from its recording roster.  Johnson quit and ended up working as an architect and civil engineer.  Davies, Hicks and Thomas soldiered on briefly as a trio completing a final tour.  Frustrated with their inability to break commercially the trio called it quits in early 1972.  


Davies eventually ended up playing with The Rooster Brothers.


Thomas seems to be the only band member who remained actively involved in music playing with a number of bands including Shortstuff, The Diplomatics and the David Thomas Band.  He also released a solo LP "Coldharbour" that included a number of tracks that were originally intended for a Blonde On Blonde release.  


For anyone interested Thomas has a nice website at:



As mentioned earlier, Denyer went on to front the short-lived band Aquila and has published a guitar instruction book: The Guitar Handbook (ISBN 0679742751)